The Most Important Indicators of Success Have Nothing To Do With Money—And I Thank My Mom for Teaching Me That

Photo: Arianna Huffington; Graphic: W+G Creative
Who has inspired you? Challenged you? Shaped you? In honor of Women's History Month, we're recognizing the women who made us who we are today. To all who came before, the mothers, grandmothers, mentors, teachers, and trailblazers... thank you. Here, Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, founder of The Huffington Post, and author of 15 books, honors her late mother.

Dear Mom,

It feels strange to be writing to you since, in my head and in my heart, I’m talking to you all the time. Sometimes, though, thoughts are worth writing down, so I want to thank you for the incredible inheritance you left me and my sister Agapi. Of course, you left no prized possessions — your lifelong habit of giving anything of value away as soon as you got it made sure of that. Rather, what you left was an abundant treasure trove of wisdom and life lessons.

I remember when I was 12 years old, a very successful Greek businessman came to our home for dinner. He looked rundown and exhausted, but immediately began telling us how well things were going for his business. You, however, were definitely not impressed. “I don’t care how well your business is doing,” you told him bluntly, “you’re not taking care of you. Your business might have a great bottom line, but there are only so many withdrawals you can make from your health bank account, and you’ll go bankrupt if you don’t make some deposits soon.”

When I was 15, I remember coming home from school one day and excitedly telling you about seeing a photo in a magazine of Cambridge University. The photo made a deep impression on me, and I announced that this is where I wanted to go to school. Instead of laughing at me, as everyone else did in the days that followed, your reaction was: let’s make it happen. Though we had no money, and I didn’t speak English at the time, you solved both problems at once by selling what little jewelry you had so I could take English classes. Then you researched everything about the entrance exams I’d need to take, along with information about scholarships. And in the end, you did make it happen, through your sheer determination and belief that anything is possible.

In a world increasingly gripped by harried feelings of time famine, you taught me that one can simply choose to be time affluent instead.

In addition to teaching me the importance of prioritizing my well-being and believing in myself, you taught me to live in the moment. I remember all those trips with you through the farmers’ market. They’d inevitably turn into all-day affairs full of wondering at “how lovely that rosemary looks next to the lavender!” In a world increasingly gripped by harried feelings of time famine, you taught me that one can simply choose to be time affluent instead. I remember the advice you’d give Agapi and me whenever we were faced with a hard decision: “Darling, let it marinate.” In other words, give yourself the time to think about and live with the consequences of the decision.

You moved through the world in a timeless way, careful to never miss the moment. In fact, I remember the last time you got angry with me. It was when you saw me reading my email and talking to Christina and Isabella, your cherished granddaughters, at the same time. “I abhor multitasking,” you said. You showed us the gifts that come only when you surrender 100 percent of yourself to a task, a conversation, a meal, a relationship, a moment.

I think often of two of your favorite sayings: that fearlessness isn’t the absence of fear but the mastery of it, and that failure isn’t the opposite of success, but a stepping stone. But what’s really stuck with me, and fueled everything I’ve done, is your sense of unconditional love — that’s what’s allowed me to take chances, risk failure and get back up when I’ve failed.

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